One of the themes running through my new course The Creative Image is that photography projects are great for developing your skills and being more creative.
But how do you think up photography project ideas in the first place? Before we answer that, let’s look at some of the ways projects can help you become a better photographer.
The benefits of photography projects
There are three ways that projects help make you a better photographer.
1. A photography project gives you purpose.
A good photography project idea gives you something to aim for and work towards. It encourages you to plan, generate ideas and put them into action.
It’s a more productive way of working than just going for a walk with your camera, hoping to see something interesting.
2. A photography project encourages you to find subjects with the potential to make interesting photos.
The more interesting your project idea, the better the photos are likely to be.
3. A photography project encourages you to produce a set of images that look like they belong together.
It’s a different process than shooting individual images and gets you thinking in another way.
What makes a good project
Before we look at ways to generate ideas, we need to ask ourselves what makes a good photography project idea.
A good project idea is accessible. It may seem obvious, but you need access to the subject. Projects you can work on a short distance from your home are likely to be the most productive.
Projects involving people are often interesting, but it may be difficult to get the access you need.
A good project idea challenges you. A good project tests your photography skills and abilities as a photographer, but not too much. If you come up with a project idea that’s too complex or difficult you’ll get discouraged.
A good project idea gives you something to aim for. For example, you might plan to turn the best photos from the project into a zine or photo book. Or maybe you’d like to print out a set of photos to hang on your wall.
A good project idea has a sense of completion. A good project idea isn’t open ended. It’s something you do for a while, then finish it and move onto another one. It doesn’t matter whether the time scale is days, months or years, there should be an end point.
A good project idea should excite you. If you’re excited about a photography project idea, you’ll have the enthusiasm and energy required to finish it.
For example, my project photographing performance artists was both accessible (I knew several people who did it) and challenging. You can see some of the portraits resulting from that project below.
There’s nothing wrong with having several projects on the go at the same time.
For example, let’s say you’re currently working on two projects. The first is making photos of flowers in your garden. The second is making portraits of people at work.
The portrait project is more difficult because you need access. It takes time to approach potential subjects, explain the project and get their approval. Then you need to find a mutually convenient time to make the photos. You need time and patience.
But the flower project is something you can do at almost any time. The subject is easy to access. It’s something you can work on while waiting for things to happen with the portrait project.
How to generate project ideas
Here are some suggestions to help you come up with project ideas.
1. Look back over your old photos to see what themes and project ideas emerge. Over the years you will have photographed many things that interest you. Which of these have the potential to become a new photography project?
Learn more: Creative Photography Exercise: Your Ten Best Photos From 2021
2. Look for ideas in books, magazines and websites. What are other photographers doing? What ideas do these spark?
For example, one of my favorite publishers is Hoxton Mini Press. Its photo books are full of great ideas that can inspire your own photography projects. It’s worth visiting the publisher’s website to see for yourself.
My book The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments is full of interesting challenges that can be turned into projects.
Here are three ideas from the book.
You could do a project photographing people’s hands.
Or a project photographing trees in winter.
Or one photographing old cars.
3. Plan out your year. As 2022 approaches it’s a good idea to plan out some of the things you’d like to do with your photography.
Some project ideas are seasonal. For example, the best time to photograph flowers is (depending on where you live) often spring and summer.
If you live somewhere that gets beautiful autumn colors, you might have an idea for a project that uses them. If you’re planning to go away for a couple of weeks in the summer, you might come up with an idea for a project you can do while you’re there.
Some photography project ideas I like
I thought it would be helpful to show you some projects done by other photographers. The first two project ideas are simple, and almost anybody could do them. The third is more complex, but equally doable with a bit of determination.
Fenlands by Pete Bridgwood
Photographer Pete Bridgwood made this set of photos capturing the melancholy and mood of the Lincolnshire fens in winter. If it’s winter where you are right now this project could inspire you to see your local landscape differently.
Oil and water abstract by Mandy Disher
This is a project that anybody could do at home with a minimal investment in equipment. It’s about as simple and accessible as you can get, yet photographer Mandy Disher has made a great set of images from it.
Sunday Best by Katie Waggett
A series of portraits of worshippers from different faiths photographed after attending their places of worship. A fascinating series that captures the diversity of faith in London. The project resulted in a book published by Hoxton Mini Press.
Your own project ideas
Now you’ve read the article you should be able to think of some ideas for photography projects you can do yourself. Why not write a list of three project ideas you could do over the next 12 months? Focus on coming up with ideas that are accessible, challenging and that get you excited.
The Creative Image
Projects are just one part of the creative process. You can learn about lots of good ideas like this in my new course The Creative Image. Click the link to learn more – enrollment is open until the end of December.
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